TWO IMPORTANT meetings took place in the Amicus union last week. Both the new national executive and the joint broad left met for the first time last week. Instead of this being a drive towards a member-led union, as many people want, it saw moves by Derek Simpson to grab more control over the union. This is very unfortunate given Simpson's past record.
Simpson beat Sir Ken Jackson to win the leadership of the AEEU electrician and engineering union in July 2002, promising to return control of the union to members. Simpson was seen as part of the new generation of 'awkward squad' union leaders.
The union is a much more open organisation than in Jackson's day but Simpson's latest proposals are dangerous. The AEEU and MSF unions merged on 1 January this year. The first national executive council (NEC) meeting of the new union was held last week. The left grouping, Amicus Unity Gazette, makes up almost half the executive.
Derek Simpson proposed a series of measures at last week's meeting. He wanted the NEC to delegate many of its powers to the general secretary. This is temporary until the next NEC meeting on 16 March. However, key decisions on lay democracy in the new union are to be made during this period. These include the new regional structures, and how many motions and delegates branches can send to national policy conference and others.
These proposals were voted through at the end of the NEC meeting, with no discussion. In the confusion Unity Gazette members voted for the proposals but a number were concerned with the consequences.
At the national Unity Gazette meeting last Sunday a number of members made it clear to Simpson that they didn't want him to use his powers in this way. The Unifi union is set to merge with Amicus on 1 July. Leaders of the GPMU print workers' union have won a ballot of their members to go into talks to join Amicus.
There are real concerns among many Gazette supporters about how democracy will operate after any such mergers. Derek Simpson's proposals could mean NEC members have no role in their own industrial sector, with no right to information, to contact members or to attend regional meetings. Many activists want a member-led union, with democracy at its heart.